Friday, September 30, 2016

An Olympics Trek: Dodger Point Fire Lookout

Last weekend I headed out to the Olympic Peninsula in search of one of the most remote fire lookouts in Washington and the only one remaining in Olympic National Park. Here's how the pre-planning went:

Me, in June: I want to get out to Dodger Point later this summer!

Ranger: Cool! But there was a road washout on the road in that is impassible to cars. You have to park about six miles before the trailhead and either walk in or bike in.

Me, in August: Cool! I'll plan to take three days total and bike in to the trailhead before starting the 14-mile backpack.

Ranger: Actually, they just started repairing the road, so now it's completely closed to all public access until October.

Me: ...

Ranger, in September: Now the road is only being repaired on weekdays, and is open to foot traffic on Saturdays and Sundays.

Me, to two friends: Hey, you want to cover 40 miles in two days to get to this lookout?

Friends: We're gluttons for punishment. Sure!

So that's how Max, Gretchen, and I ended up loading three mountain bikes onto Max's tiny Scion xA before catching a Friday night ferry to Kingston. We stopped at my friend's house in Port Angeles to borrow a bear canister, and he and his partner graciously invited us in for a late dinner. We feasted on tacos, homebrew, and homemade cider before stopping by the Wilderness Information Center to self-issue backcountry permits. We needed to get an early start and wouldn't be able to get to the WIC during business hours. By the time we set up camp, it was nearly midnight.

Early Saturday morning we drove to the Madison Falls trailhead (where the road closure began) and hopped on our bikes. The first mile and half is flat along the paved Olympic Hot Springs Road, but then we turned onto the Whiskey Bend forest service road and begin climbing up, up, up on the gravel.
Biking in with packs on the Elwha River Road
It was a tiring but pleasant ride to the completely empty Whiskey Bend trailhead. We ate some snacks and locked up our bikes before starting the next leg of the trip. The trail runs high above the Elwha for a few miles before dropping you down to a large suspension bridge to cross the river. Then the gradual but steady climb begins, around 5000 feet over the next 10 miles.
Crossing the Elwha before the
climb up to Long Ridge

Hiking up through the trees and the mist
The forest is lovely, but it's looooong way through the trees. We occasionally caught glimpses to the east of Hurricane Ridge, and could even see the road. The trail was in decent condition, but there was a bit of debris and blowdowns to contend with.
Climbing over a big cedar that
smashed a little bridge
The long trail of switchbacks made it all the more rewarding when we finally broke out into the clearing of subalpine meadows. It was cloudy, but the clouds were high enough that we had great views of surrounding mountains, and it was a very comfortable temperature. We could see Mount Olympus, the Bailey Range, and numerous glaciers.
Enjoying the views from the subalpine slopes

Reaching our destination: Dodger Point lookout!
We made it to the lookout at 5750 feet in the early evening. It is closed to the public and used on an as-needed basis by the park service. We relished the view from top, sipped whiskey, and watched the clouds hint at pink before descending back a half mile to set up camp and make dinner.
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It rained on and off during the night, and we awoke to a thick fog. I was so happy that we had gotten nice views the day before. We fueled up on coffee, refilled water, and layered up to tromp through the wet, dense salal and blueberry.
Starting the hike out

Mist in the Long Creek valley
It got steadily warmer and drier all morning, and by lunch time we were sitting in patches of hot sun, drying out our socks. In the last few miles of trail there is a small loop hike option, so we took the section that we hadn't taken on the way in. It passed by a couple homesteader cabins from the turn of the century. They are a little grimy but sturdy and in good condition. And the highlight? You can barely see it, but in front of this cabin is an apple tree. It had little apples on it and I enjoyed one with delight, as it's not often you get to eat decades old apples from a historic homestead in the middle of a national park. And with not a single other person to be seen. We hadn't passed anyone in two days.
Turn of the century homesteader cabin
We thoroughly enjoyed the downhill of the bike ride out, though on the slightest bit of uphill, my quads were screaming. We made it back to the car in one piece, and stopped on the way to the ferry to wolf down dinner. I wish we had been able to spend more time there, and just soak in that part of the Olympic backcountry without having to hike out immediately. It was a ton of ground to cover in just over 48 hours, and I hobbled up my stairs and into a hot shower in contented exhaustion.


ElizaBeth said...

I have to be honest, I first read "beer canister" instead of bear and was like, wow, that is some commitment to beer to trek in with a full canister of it! You are a tenacious gal to take that on. Well done.

AmberAnda said...

Haha, I'm glad you wouldn't put it past me to carry a beer canister! You never know ;)I'm so relieved I was able to do the trip before all this crazy fall rain started!